Monday, October 31, 2011

Ruth’s Christmas

It might seem odd to be looking ahead toward Christmas on the day of Halloween, but what can I say: not only is that just kind of the way it goes in the weird and wonderful world of government office life, but this morning when I arrived at the train station it was only 30-something degrees outside, so winter does not seem like all that foreign a concept. Not to mention Halloween gets pretty short shrift around here (the federal/DoD wing of The Big Gray, that is) with no one dressing up in costume or making much of an acknowledgement of the date at all, not even a wacky jack-o-lantern tie or unironic black cat appliquéd sweater or anything. (Personally, I did wear my Superman tie today as a very indirect Halloween nod, rendered even harder to read by the fact that I’m wearing a fleece over my shirt and tie, because see above about how it’s close to freezing around here.)

Anyway, yes, as of our staff meeting last week there was already significant time given over to discussing things such as departmental coverage for the holidays (and since those encompass Thanksgiving and that was only four weeks away at the time, I can understand that) and where exactly our office holiday party would be held this year, since we’ve moved and our new building does not have the cool top-floor conference room which was the previous default site. But as I’ve mentioned previously, one thing Crystal City has going for it is a superabundance of restaurants (and event-ready hotels, at that) so the off-site holiday party is not that much of a hardship. And in fact, since one of the possibilities mentioned was Ruth’s Chris Steak House, this year may end up being one of my favorite work-mandatory seasonal celebrations of all time. Of course if they end up going a different way and that was just a tease, I will be bitter.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hackers Wanted

Double-feature from Hell
Hackers and Wanted are both major-studio American movies released about 13 years apart (1995 and 2008 respectively), and they have a ridiculous number of things in common besides short, trochee titles:

- Both prominently feature Angelina Jolie
- Both focus on underground, outlaw anti-heroes
And I could go on by delving into the minutiae, but let’s cut to the chase
- Both are resoundingly terrible

Spoilers to follow as I really get into them, but trust me, I can’t ruin things that are already this bad, and if I prevent you from watching either I’m doing you a favor.

Funny enough (for Random Anecdote Friday, especially) another aspect both flicks have in common for me personally is that I can trace the reasons for watching both of them back to the same guy, one of my near and dear buddies. This would be the pal with whom I worked and carpooled for a few years, circa 2005 to 2007. One day at the office he and some of our fellow programmers were talking about the movie Hackers with the kind of slightly condescending nostalgia reserved for entertainments which seemed fairly cool at the time but might not 100% hold up after their moment had passed. I was left out of the conversation because I had never seen the film, but I added it to the top of my Netflix queue in order to remedy the situation.

And never having seen it before, watching it a decade later, plus having at least a rudimentary familiarity with things like internet security and whatnot (which was how Hackers came up at my place of business in the first place), I found it really, ridiculously absurdly bad. The attempts at (a) making hacking into a server look like a hyper-futuristic video game and (b) replicating the argot of this fringe subculture of quasi-anarchist kids all ended up as a perfect storm of nonsensical gibberish, and since I wasn’t buying any of that there was nothing to distract me from the fact that the fundamental plot of the movie itself is essentially incoherent and goes on and on forever. Taking it all in was a brain-bruising experience … and of course that meant I could not wait until the following day when I would have my buddy in the car on the ride to work, a captive audience whom I could regale with critiques of the film. Which is exactly how our morning commute began, and continued, until (in what I believe was the one and only time my friend ever said anything like this to me, including the time we took an all-nighter roadtrip to Orlando and basically exchanged life stories, though why we undertook that excursion is an anecdote for another day) my buddy told me in no uncertain terms to shut up. Not hurry up and get to the point, but stop talking about the movie immediately and change the subject or risk levels of violence usually associated with permanent injury. So yeah, Hackers is so bad that a portion of the explication of its badness could just about drive a man insane.

Wanted was one of three movies that same buddy loaned me on Blu-Ray so that I could have something to watch on the Blu-Ray player he gave me for my birthday. To his credit, when I asked him if it was any good, he pointedly said nothing more than “It looks amazing in hi-def.” I was therefore still skeptical but my buddy had made a deal with me on my birthday, since he knows I have a tendency to build up huge backlogs of entertainment I keep meaning to consume: all I had to do was watch one of the three movies in the next month (which happens to end on Halloween) and I would continue to enjoy access to borrowing Blu-Rays in the future. Otherwise I would be cut-off. So since my wife was working late Wednesday night and there wasn’t much on tv and both kids were asleep early, I watched Wanted. And yes, absolutely the best thing I can say about it is that it has a certain visual appeal during various setpieces. But it doesn’t make a lick of freakin’ sense.

You might recall that not too long ago I was praising the G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra movie even though, or perhaps because, it makes no sense, so this may seem like an abrupt reversal. But G.I. Joe at least had the decency to embrace its own cheesiness and allow itself to unfurl as a gloriously philosophy-free series of improbable events which looked really cool and blew stuff up. My major beef with Wanted is that it tries to infuse its ultraviolent kaleidoscope of kewl and its pseudo-plot connective tissue with some kind of commentary on modern life. And it fails miserably.

One more difference between Hackers and Wanted is that I watched the first one before I had a blog, and the second one after. So whereas in the past the only way I could grapple with the storm of thoughts which truly terrible cinema can set off in my brain is by talking it to death with a friend (and testing the limits of said friendship in the process), now if I really need to pick apart a celluloid debacle I can do it right here and when people get bored they don’t even have to be confrontational about it, they can just blithely surf away. And given that freedom, I’m deciding at this point to hold off on over-analyzing Wanted until some time next week, because I really think it’s going to be a longish post in and of itself and this one’s pushing a thousand words already. So be forewarned!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two thoughts

Last week, immediately after I blogged about our traction-gaining efforts to housebreak our son, there were some setbacks which caused my wife to accuse me of jinxing the enterprise. And yet I am going to tempt fate and have at the subject once again (and once again I will hopefully be sparing enough with details on effluvium to avoid the gross-out). I’m justifying this continuation upon a theme because matters have advanced quite a bit and I may not have cause to comment on the subject at all fairly soon (at least until it’s our little girl’s turn, though at the rate she is aggressively playing developmental catch-up with her brother that could be in about eleven months).

So, thought one, it’s really amazing how serendipitously everything came together. I mentioned that, as always, my wife and I were not above bribing the little guy; now let me elaborate a little on the logistics. For almost as long as he’s been collecting Cars, the little guy has wanted the gang of hot rods who terrorize Lightning McQueen’s faithful tractor trailer Mack (and thus set the main plot in motion, so really who am I to argue with being drawn to such pivotal players in the narrative). He’s had Lightning and Mack forever, and he had taken to using four Matchbox cars as proxies for re-enacting the scene of highway shenanigans. I went on eBay and happened to find one person who was selling all four of those hot rods, so hey, combined shipping and all that. And so we made up the charts, one per hot rod, with increasing (yet arbitrarily pulled out of our collective parenting butt) numbers of stickers required to earn each one, awarded for successful trips to the potty … and then, amazingly, by the time the little guy had finished the fourth chart and earned the last member of the gang (which happened Tuesday) he had pretty much been fully trained. Which was all to the good, because if he had needed more incentives to keep going with the training, I would have been fine with that in principle but unsure which random toys would keep the little guy on task. So it all worked out, huzzah.

It should strike me as weird that someone old enough to make this art loves the movie enough to want to in the first place ... and yet it doesn't.
Incidentally, the excessive celebratory songs and dances seem to be no longer required, either, although we never run out of those and they haven’t even stopped being amusing to the little guy’s mother and me. Nonetheless, I’m grateful that the little guy was over them long before we were.

So thought two, of course, is now we’re getting cocky enough that we have a ton of geographically wide-ranging stuff planned for the near future. Dinner with friends at their place on Saturday afternoon, dinner with different friends at their place on Sunday afternoon, and trick-or-treating with yet another set of friends on Monday night, all of which will take the little guy out of his home base comfort zone and into situations with lots of distractions, not least other (usually older) kids. At the moment I’m optimistic that he can run that gauntlet without anything going disastrously wrong (which still allows for the incidental accident here or there).

And assuming we do make it all the way into November with things continuing in the right direction, then the really bonus aspect of it all will be that the little guy will, as previously noted, be able to hang out with the other 3-year-olds at daycare instead of the 2-year-olds (some of whom are still in the communicate-primarily-via-biting phase) and generally be in a more brain-stimulating environment. He’s been slowly pre-transitioning already, and in fact spent something like the middle five hours of the day in the next-up classroom yesterday, so I think he’s essentially ready to dive in permanently (and I know for a fact my wife and I are more than ready to stop signing “accident reports” stemming from aforementioned bitings). So, here’s hoping.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Serious playthings

The other day my wife and I were talking about winning the lottery, as we sometimes do (and as I’m sure just about everyone whose economic existence hovers somewhere between “barest subsistence” and “lap of luxury” sometimes does as well). We long ago established that a windfall of millions of dollars would be more than reason enough to quit our jobs and pursue lives of leisure, but in the conversation in question we were discussing such flights of fancy as owning our own businesses, which might somehow combine recreational pursuits (we’d be entirely disposed toward spending time on anyway) with the income tax writeoffs of losses and expenses that the uber-rich are expected to claim.

My wife wondered if I would have any interest in owning and operating a comic book store, with the onus of requiring it to be profitable essentially removed from the equation. I was unhesitating in answering in the negative. I’ve never even briefly entertained the fantasy of owning a comic book shop, with or without the whole be-my-own-boss/make-a-living aspects, because it always struck me as kind of a grind, as most retail jobs are. I’ve never worked in someone else’s comic book shop, either, but I did hold down a gig at an ice cream parlor in my high school days and I imagine the similarities would stand out: I like visiting those establishments, I enjoy consuming what they sell, but laboring on the employee side of the counter day after day after day isn’t a ton of fun.

Nonetheless, I understood the logical appraisal of my interests implicit in my wife’s question, and that got me thinking about how I could incorporate all of the geek trappings I love surrounding myself in with something vaguely resembling a job, without all the clock-punching drudgery. And then it hit me: curating a toy museum.

From what I understand or can imagine, managing the stock of a comic book shop is mighty boring: every month you order a certain number of copies of the latest issue of the currently-published titles and/or the new releases of graphic novels and trade paperback collections, as well as a certain amount of related merchandise largely determined by the physical size of your store and the type of customers you tend to draw. And you hope that you sell everything you paid for, without running out so quickly that you lose customer loyalty, but also without overstocking so much that you are hemorrhaging profits. Some comic book shops also pride themselves on stocking much older back issues of comics, or out-of-print books, or vintage merch, or whatnot but that’s almost always a secondary concern at best. If the hot, high-sales-volume items right now are nine different series featuring Wolverine, or bookends shaped like Twilight characters, or whatever, then that’s what you become a vendor of. And the process is even more mechanical by virtue of the fact that there are very few distribution channels for comic book shops, so you basically get one catalog that tells you what the hot items are that month, and you order off that master list, and stock your shelves when the boxes show up.

Ah, but a museum is a completely different thing which traffics in the enduring past, not the fleeting trends of the moment. That’s more my speed. If I want to surround myself with Manglor toys in my museum I can do so whether or not there’s a Hollywood adaptation of the franchise due in a couple of months.

What could be more fun than Sorbothane?
Of course, that’s assuming I can find any Manglor toys, but again that’s part of the charm. Instead of ordering formulaically out of a catalog I would have to hunt down the subjects of the toy museum exhibits, which undoubtedly would include some fierce eBay bidding and Amazon hunting expeditions, but also a fair amount of backroads wandering, independent store visiting and general plaything prospecting.

And once I had put together a retrospective’s worth of a certain toy line, I would still need to assemble a proper display area for them. Much as any decent natural history museum is likely to choose to build an entire fake Mauritian beach on which to situate its reconstructed Dodo family rather than simply stand them in empty glass cases, I would similarly while away the hours constructing elaborate diorama environments as backdrops for the toys, from sci-fi cityscapes to run elaborate loops of Hot Wheels tracks through to jungle planetscapes to (barely) contain Herculoids action figures. Granted, I kind of indulge in that already, since I usually open up toys as I buy them and position them on bookshelves, with some props and simple stage-dressing whenever possible. It would only be a matter of more elaborate and involved fake scenery, facilitated by unlimited monetary resources and free time.

Plus instead of being set up in a spare room in my basement, the toy museum would occupy an entire building unto itself (someplace adjacent to the horse farm where my wife and I and our family would live, as per her half of this lottery-winning dream) which would be much more accessible to the general public, who could gain access to its wonders during museum hours six days a week for a “suggested donation”. I’m no accountant, but I’m pretty sure owning and operating a repository of our shared culture is worth double tax-deduction points, at least.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Other time-saving devices

There’s an old Hollywood trope which holds that if you visit an office building in the middle of the night, the people you are most likely to encounter are the cleaning crew. I call this a Hollywood trope because, in my experience, it is in fact something which is true only in the movies. I see the cleaning crew at my office building during normal, daylight business hours pretty much all the time.

And sometimes they kind of drive me nuts. I can see a certain wisdom in going around mid-morning to empty every cubicle’s wastebasket, I guess, but closing the men’s room for cleaning at 10 a.m.? That is some pretty prime post-morning-coffee time right there, isn’t it? There’s also frequent afternoon vacuuming in my particular cube farm, which rankles me beyond all reason. It only affects me to the extent of messing with my concentration and being generally annoying, but on behalf of my co-workers who actually have to interact with other people face-to-face or on the phone, and who end up raising their voices above the motor sounds (or giving up entirely until the vacuumer passes by) I take umbrage. I think everyone should be entitled to make a decent living with dignity and have a good life, and I get how part of that is working during the working part of the day insofar as that’s possible, but surely the vacuuming part of the housekeeping job can wait until after 5 p.m.

Insert preferred double-entendre quote here.
But funny enough I saw a member of the cleaning crew today with the industrial vacuum canister strapped to his back, and I smiled. Because, this past Saturday night, I took the kids over to their mother’s clinic after hours for a quick visit since she would be staying late to set up for Open House. As I mentioned yesterday, a thorough cleaning of the premises was part of the set-up agenda, and given how busy they are on a regular basis they really had no choice but to wait until after the doors were closed and locked for the night. At that point, out came the spray bottles and rags … and the industrial vacuum with canister backpack.

Nobody was using the vacuum cleaner while we were there, so it was simply leaned against a counter where it eventually caught the attention of the little guy, who wandered over to check it out up close. I asked him what it was, and he informed me that it was “a hot dog pump”. He then proceeded to show me how the hot dogs were made in the main cylinder and then pumped out through the attached hose, all explained without the slightest hesitation or doubt.

So of course now I very much want a hot dog pump for our house because I believe that would be incredibly useful. But barring that, at least I’m more amused than usual when I see the cleaning crew at work roaring my way.

Monday, October 24, 2011


I’m going to cop out with an extremely short post today, owing to a couple of competing factors. This past weekend was dominated by my wife’s vet clinic’s annual open house on Sunday, for which my wife had to stay at work late on Saturday cleaning and setting up, and slightly longer than usual on Sunday to wind down the event itself. It all threw me for a strange loop, as this was the fourth Open House we’ve been through but the first one since the birth of our daughter, which meant it was the first time I spent the vast majority of a weekend wrangling both munchkins by myself. Generally either I’ve been at work utilizing different (if any) parts of my brain before running the dinner-and-bedtime juggling gauntlet in the span of a couple hours, OR I am home with the kids on the weekend while my wife works but she’s home again well before dinner time both days. I’d never done a marathon like this past Saturday and by Sunday evening I was depleted. (And also kind of in a self-induced food coma because my wife said “Let me treat for dinner!” and I said “OK, how about Chinese!” and proceded to eat entirely too much kung pao chicken. So that’s on me.)

So today is something of a recovery day but, as it happens, I have a meeting with my boss tomorrow to go over some actual application development which wasn’t quite finished this morning, so I’ve spent the majority of the day today doing actual coding and testing and whatnot. I am just as shocked as anyone, although not so much that the “few, tiny things” I thought I had left turned out to be problematically knotty and time-consuming; that’s just par for the course for me, really. I did get it done (or done enough to have the meeting and demo some stuff and if anything blows up I’ll just have to stare peevishly at the screen and scribble some quick notes about bug-fixes for the next go round) so I have a moment now to check in on the blog, but no major revelations to make or observations to ponder. Some days are like that.

Friday, October 21, 2011


If my life were a movie and the trailer/poster for that movie needed a tagline, one that comes to mind is “If you push a man past his breaking point, he’ll finally break all the rules.” Of course, in my case that doesn’t refer to meting out harsh street justice with military surplus and mad kung fu skills, but rather to violating my personal code of behavior in online forums as I spend my daily dose of time in front of a computer as usual.

I tell myself with mantra-like repetition that it does little to no good to enter into an internet conversation with strangers in the interest of winning an argument, proving a point, or changing someone’s mind. The chances of success are virtually non-existent, there’s no other corollary upside, and the downside includes general frustration, wastes of precious time, and coming out looking like a jackass. So even when I read trolly comments and they really, really bug me, I try to ignore them. But I’m only human and sometimes resisting the urge to rebut is exhausting.

So earlier this week there was some entertainment “news” about how Anne Hathaway was cast as Fantine in the forthcoming big screen adaptation of the musical version of Les Mis. I must admit that Les Mis is a show almost embarrassingly near and dear to my heart. Not only did it probably peak in U.S. popularity at a time that coincided with my early adolescence, when I would be particularly vulnerable to the bombast and melodrama of the whole spectacle, but those high school years were also incredibly music-intensive for me. I was in the school marching band, concert band, chorus, show choir, jazz band, plays (which were almost always classic Broadway shows), etc. I spent all my free time on school property hanging out in the music wing of the building with other kids who were similarly obsessed with the performing arts, and as with any teenage peer group the things that were popular with us, like Les Mis, were insanely popular because we reinforced each other’s mania with group-think. So Les Mis became deeply imprinted on my brain. To this day, if I am flipping around on television and PBS is doing their annual pledge drive and showing one of the “Les Mis in Concert” specials I am drawn into it as helplessly as if I came across Goodfellas or A Few Good Men on cable. The last time this happened I left it on as background noise while I did some straightening and found myself singing along to Javert’s solo, “Stars”, and I still knew every word and that was from two-decade old second-hand memorization (because I was a tenor and Javert is a baritone so it wasn’t a proper piece for me Ibut listened to a lot of my friends practicing “Stars” for recital).

So. Les Mis. I am familiar, and I enjoy it, but I am not hyper-possessive of it. They are making a movie of it? Fine by me, and I may see it some day, or I may not. I’m trying to arrange my life these days around celebrating the things I like and not devoting mental energy to the things I don’t care for. And those are the ways I’ll contribute to the cyber-chatter, tossing the occasional “I dug this” into the mix. I absolutely won’t waste my time in negatively pre-judging things, since it combines unnecessary bad vibes with impossible attempts at future-seeing. But other people follow their own instincts, so of course I ran across a comment (on NPR’s site, of all places!) responding to the Hathaway casting by saying, “Um, is it wrong that I think she’s way too old?”

Similarly withholding judgment about her turn as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.  FOR NOW.
That just made my teeth clench. Just trying to parse that snotty objection-disguised-as-question, I came up with two possibilities. One, the commenter is exceptionally bad at math and/or judging ages. Anne Hathaway has been making movies for quite a while now, it’s true, but she’ll only turn 29 next month. I don’t know if Fantine’s age is mentioned in Hugo’s novel, but late 20’s seems perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? Suppose Fantine was 16 when she conceived her daughter (any younger feels a little too creepy) and 17 when Cosette was born, and Cosette in turn is about 9 or 10 when Fantine’s part of Les Mis plays out. So 26, 27? How in the world is 29 “way too old” to play 26? The second possibility is that the commenter is mixing up characters and thinking of Eponine, who I will grant is supposed to be about 18 and thus, yeah, casting a perilously-near-30-year-old is a bit of a stretch. But also totally not what’s happening, so either way, the commenter is an idiot. And I really wanted to point that out. But what would that accomplish? So I navigated away before my indignation got the better of me.

Still, my defenses were weakened. And then like a day later I was catching up at a forum where I do post regularly which is all about genre fiction and has a long-running thread about Writing Tips. Someone had brought up confusion between the words “affect” and “effect” and someone else said “Keeping them straight is actually easy, and I teach my students this mnemonic for it: RAVEN = Right, Affect is a Verb and Effect is a Noun.” Which … ok, first off, that’s an inaccurate oversimplification. Sometimes “affect” is used as a noun. Sometimes “effect” is used as a verb. But maybe more to the point, that is a HUGE irritant to me, when someone interrupts discussion of a legitimately complicated concept and says “oh, it’s not so complicated” and proves their point with flagrant dumbing down of the idea. Like the rest of us are making things unnecessarily cumbersome because we lack the insight to see how simple the reality is. I will totally concede that the rules of English grammar are often arbitrary and bordering on nonsensical, and that there are far worse problems in the world than people who shortcut those rules while still managing to get their points across, but the rules do exist, and they can be learned, and they do aid clarity in certain situations, and … yeah, as you can tell by how het up I am about this, I actually was even moreso in the moment and I totally commented on that thread to correct the previous post. But I felt like I was slightly justified because it wasn’t something as subjective (and stupid) as whether or not a certain actress is right for a certain part that no one will see for a couple of years yet. In a thread dedicated to useful information and tips, when someone (who, note, claims to be a TEACHER! Of some sort. Could be a part-time Kaplan tutor for all we know.) tosses out misinformation there is an element of public service in not letting that go unchallenged. Right?

I’m sure I still came across as a pompous prescriptivist, though. Little would anyone on the anonymous internet know where I was coming from …

In a world …
where one man …
found the only way to shout down the ignorant …
was to
Coming Christmas 2011 to a theater near you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy dance

While this blog does tend to run squarely into daddy territory at least once a week, and I have no problem acknowledging all the ups and downs from how I neurotically overthink the way I am influencing my offspring’s future happiness through my every action and inaction, to the rationality-pulverizing cuteness of little things my kids surprise me with, there is one element of parenting which by and large I tend to eschew in-depth discussion of hereabouts, and that is the near-constant contact with intimate biological functions. I’ve never tried to pretend that my children are ephemeral sprites, and I’m sure I’ve made passing reference to changing diapers or laundering spit-up stains or whatnot, but I try not to dwell on these things. The earthly muck comes with the territory, and I have no qualms with that at all, but I shouldn’t because they’re my kids. Even if you happen to be a blood relative of those kids yourself (and a large percentage of you reading this ona regular basis are) I don’t see the need to wallow in said muck, metaphorically.

However! Without getting too bogged down in details, as it were, I am stoked to report that we seem to finally be on the positive side of potty training the little guy. Arguably another reason why I hadn’t broached this subject before, aside from the unsavory subject matter itself, was that potty training seemed very much like one of those things that would be doomed by too much overthinking and stress and whatnot (I am speaking to the role of the parents here, of course) and yet I found myself overthinking it and stressing about it a lot, especially when we got to the point where the little guy was eligible according to calendar-age to move up a room at daycare but unable to do so because he was still in diapers. And our early attempts at changing the status quo were met by the little guy with indifference followed by stubborn resistance. So we had to resign ourselves to outwaiting him, but it still bummed me out, but I didn’t want to talk about how it bummed me out because … there are actually times when I just prefer not to talk about things, unlikely as that may seem. Anyway, it was a drag, but a drag that my wife and I were determined not to translate into trauma for the little guy, even as we read books on the subject and talked it to death after he had gone to sleep and so on and so on.

And then this past weekend we had reasonably clear schedules and decided we would give it one more try with a concerted push that walked the line between making the option available and very visible to the little guy yet not pressuring him in any way. That lasted about six or eight hours on Saturday and he was as unenthusiastic as ever, even with some really high-end rewards potentially on the table. So I made a desperation play and told the little guy that he would start losing privileges if he didn’t at least try, and that actually made an impression and he did try, and the timing must have finally been right for him to get with the program because he was hesitant but on-board on Saturday night, and then a little less tentative on Sunday, and then I went back to work on Monday and worried that alone with my wife he would slack off some but he actually got even better, and then Tuesday I worried again that going to daycare would throw everything off but he stayed right on course, and now here we are on Thursday and we know it’s too soon to say it’s a done deal and there may yet be some setbacks or other unforeseen difficulties but so far so good. And it really is a huge weight off my shoulders, to the extent that I’m realizing I hadn’t quite admitted to myself how down I was about not doing right by my child and being complicit in him falling behind, until I was out from under all that and I could finally appraise how heavy it had been (ridiculously so, sure, but what can you do).

Things are going so well, in fact, that the little guy has already used the system of cumulative rewards to get two new additions to his beloved Cars toy collection, which makes me laugh on various levels. He now officially has more of those little vehicles than he can possibly play with in any meaningful way, but I don’t begrudge him that of course, since I’m an inveterate completist/collector/toy connoisseur myself. I do of course wonder what’s going to happen if he realizes that there are still more characters from the movie(s) that he wants to possess after the point where his mother and I feel like his behavior is modeled more or less exactly the way we want. We got him to stop throwing delaying-tactic tantrums at bedtime, got him to stay put after lights out when he went from a crib to a bed, and now have him most of the way potty trained. He already is reasonably polite and helpful, and usually eats his vegetables. What’s left? I’m assuming at some point we can transition from “you get toys on a regular basis” to “you get toys on your birthday and Christmas” with nothing more than the authority of parental fiat, and I do hope I’m not underestimating the challenge of that shift. That’s another thing that makes me laugh, of course: my wife and I pride ourselves on being modern and open-minded and in all ways primarily concerned with raising our kids the right way, and yet time and again we have found the best way to get from where we are to where we want to be has been out-and-out bribery. So much so that I would without question or hesitation recommend it to all my friends who might have kids younger than ours and run into challenges. Cars or trains or Legos or Smurfs or My Little Ponies or whatever, find a child-appealing currency and pay them to do what you want. Which sounds terrible when I lay it out like that! But sounding terrible does not prevent it from working, I have found, and I am OK with that.

Kind of a big deal right now
Also at some point I guess we’re going to have to stop hooting and whooping and clapping hands and doing a little dance whenever the little guy manages to make it to his potty in time to put there what belongs there? But I don’t think we’re at that point yet? Honestly, given the little guy’s track record with other ever-evolving rituals of home life, there may very well come a point where he tells us he’s done going to the bathroom and we start to sing and dance and he shakes his head and says “Guys, stop that.”

In the interest of a balanced approach to my two children I feel like I should also mention that my daughter now has two teeth juuuuuust poking through (both bottom front) and has also officially started eating solid foods in the form of a spoonful or three a day of rice cereal mush, and is therefore crossing into the realm where her own diaper contents go from “newborn-inoffensive bouquet” to “ugh whose turn is it?” but see, there we go into the icky business which I so conscientiously try to avoid. She’s doing splendidly in all age-appropriate ways, and perhaps I should just leave it at that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


SPOOKTOBERFEST 2011 UPDATE: I finished reading Frankenstein, and the thing I keep returning to again and again is how far away the original novel is from the popular conception of “the Frankenstein story”, by which I mean that most people think of the misunderstood, almost childlike, man-monster who only wants to understand the world and find his way in it but keeps getting rejected and/or attacked by a fearful world. I’m guessing by now most people know the bit of trick-trivia that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist and not his creation, but before the metonymy set in the book was called Frankenstein because it’s actually about the scientist, and specifically it’s a first-person account of his own psychological agony as he becomes obsessed with creating life, succeeds, is appalled by what he’s done, and has to live with the grim consequences as his rejected hideous progeny straight-up murders his little brother, his best friend, and his wife (all more or less “off-screen”). Interesting stuff.

I’ve moved on to reading The Fall, which is the second novel in a trilogy about biologically (semi-)plausible vampires destroying humanity in an epidemic parasitic plague, written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. After volume one, The Strain, I would have said it’s a pretty shallow action-adventure-horror jaunt with cardboard characters who are either Noble Tragic Heroes or Elementally Evil Demons, but in the second book there begins to be more focus on some tweener characters (like a former gangbanger, and a retired luchadore) who end up fighting in the war against the vampires (really in the service of other, less aggressive vampires who have their own agenda that runs contrary to wiping out all human life on Earth). What I can still confirm is that it’s a nice, zippy brain-candy read after the Victorian formalities of Mary Shelley.

I haven’t watched any more movies since Drag Me To Hell, but I did get an unexpected infusion into the Spooktoberfest smorgasbord over the weekend when my wife announced that she really wanted to get back to our old Buffy the Vampire Slayer Re-Watch Project. The coinciding birth of our daughter and beginning of baseball season had put Buffy way on the backmost burner since there’s almost always a ballgame on in the evenings and those are much easier to watch half-distractedly while dealing with frequent diaper changes and spitting up and walking/rocking/lullabying and so on. But the little girl is sleeping through much of the evening and night these days and the AL East is entirely in off-season mode now, so a return to Sunnydale was in fact well in order.

We had left off previously with four episodes left to go in Season 2, which is really the first full proper season of the series and the bar-setting example of building to a big finish. Or so I thought after having seen the shows once. On second viewing, it’s a slightly strange quartet to bring things to a close. Spoilers follow, arguably some of the biggest spoilers one can possibly give for BTVS as a whole.

First is “I Only Have Eyes For You” which I remembered absolutely loving the first time through and I had been looking forward to enjoying again. It did not disappoint! At heart it’s a ghost story in which malevolent spirits keep possessing people at the high school and re-enacting a murder-suicide, the result of a 1950’s era forbidden affair between a male student and a female teacher. The boy did the shootings, and Buffy’s outraged on behalf of the teacher, because Buffy’s in a very bad place with regards to her former lover, now evil arch-enemy Angel. Arguably, though, Buffy’s sympathies should have been with the boy, because he was the younger and more inexperienced one (just as Buffy was compared to Angel) and he was the one suffering his first real heartbreak with more pain than his adolescent mind could handle. All of which gets brilliantly underscored when Angel shows up at the high school just to torment Buffy while Buffy is trying to exorcise the ghosts, and the two restless spirits possess Angel and Buffy in the age-appropriate but gender-reversed roles, and the dialogue that’s been repeated over and over again takes on new meaning in how perfectly it mirrors what Buffy and Angel have been going through all season. And then it turns out that particular possession arrangement is the only way the ghosts could ever have found peace because Buffy shoots Angel but Angel doesn’t die (or was already dead, you know, same diff) and the teacher spirit in Angel is able to reach out to the student spirit in Buffy post-murder and achieve some closure. A neat trick, which not coincidentally foreshadows the fact that in three more episodes Buffy is going to have to really, truly kill Angel. But I get ahead of myself.

Also, the episode proves a point which I have long believed, which is this: if you take any song which is about deep, soul-stirring, all-consuming love, and use it to soundtrack the actions of someone who is unhealthily obsessed, the song immediately becomes HELLA-CREEPY. Seriously, it’s a great 42 minutes of television which has essentially ruined the song “I Only Have eyes For You” for me forever.

But anyway, “I Only Have Eyes For You” also ends, almost as an afterthought, with Spike getting out of his wheelchair! Pieces are moving into place for the endgame in what is very clearly a not-at-all made up as it goes along manner. Angel feels burned by the possession and decides it’s time to make a big move and stop toying with Buffy. But before we get to the final showdown …

We get a weird episode which is 99% padding between the epicness of “I Only Have Eyes For You” and the two-part finale “Becoming”. I don’t even remember the title of that intervening episode and I’m not going to Wikipedia it either (so there). It’s the one about how the members of the Sunnydale swim team are dropping like flies and at first it seems they are being targeted by fish-man monsters but then it turns out they are molting into fish-man monsters, and it’s all very silly and would not have been out of place in the early going of season one. There’s an almost superfluous scene where Angel shows up and is going to eat one of the swimmers, but gags on the mutated blood and buggers off – just to remind us, hey, Angel’s still around and up to no good. In the end the coach is the bad guy who was mutating his players by adding experimental Russian chemicals to the steam room intake pipes, and I believe there is a strong implication that he gets raped to death by the fish-man monsters at the end. Very bizarre.

And as I said, really it’s just delaying the big no-holds-barred match to close the season. “I Only Have Eyes For You” was even better the second time around for me because I knew how the episode ended and I was able to pick up and appreciate the (fairly blatant, in hindsight) clues throughout the episode which give the climax its power. By the same token, “Becoming” was even better now that I know where exactly the entire series is headed. So many seeds get planted in these episodes which bear fruit later on! Principle Snyder expels Buffy and then makes a phone call to the Mayor (hello, Season 3 Big Bad); Willow insists on trying a dark magic spell which may be too powerful for her (ditto, Season 6 Big Bad). Kendra the Vampire Slayer shows up, and gets killed by Dru, which makes way for Faith to arrive next season as well. Angel gets his soul back, dies and goes to hell! (He gets better on the latter two counts, and thus his own spin-off series becomes possible.) Buffy’s mom finds out she’s a slayer! (which, ok, doesn’t set major plots in motion, but changes the dynamic going forward a bit) And they do all this in less than an hour and a half total, while they re-tell/retcon Buffy’s origin, and also fill in a lot of Angel’s origin, too.

Spike was supposed to be a Southern good ol' boy in the original concept.  Life is funny.
And then there’s Spike. He approaches Buffy and offers to make a deal with her: he’ll backstab Angel, increasing Buffy’s odds of survival, as long as Buffy lets him and Dru leave town never to bother her again. Spike’s been wanting to give Angel his comeuppance for a while anyway and has the element of surprise because everyone thinks he’s an invalid, Buffy needs all the help she can get and is really more concerned about forestalling the End of the World, and they make a tentative truce. (To be fair, it’s not a done deal until after Spike convinces her that he wants Angel to fail at Ending the World because “I like this world. It’s got … dog racing.”) In one scene they basically lay the groundwork for Spike working more and more with Buffy than against her in the future, and set up the relationship dynamic between Spike and Buffy that basically blossoms into one of the best things about the entire run of the show. All of which went over my head the first time I watched it but was downright impressive in how organically it works as an opening salvo when considering the big picture.

So Buffy saves the world, but loses Angel, and has already been expelled from school and kicked out of her house, so she runs away, fade to credits with a Sarah McLachlan song to play us out. (Oh, ‘90’s, don’t ever change. Not that you can, at this point, I guess.) Good times! I’m hoping we can keep the momentum going with the project and dive into Season 3 sooner than later. I’ve already warned my wife that when we do make it to about the 3 / 4 point of the next season, I will have no choice but to go ahead and buy the complete series box set of Angel, because that was either the primary or secondary reason for embarking on the project in the first place (it trades places with “because Buffy is good enough to warrant a complete re-watch” depending on how I’m feeling, and right now, all punchdrunk on foreshadowing and long-game storytelling, that might be in the lead): we’ve barely seen any of Angel, and I want to watch it the first time interwoven with the concurrent seasons of Buffy the way broadcast tv intended, so Angel Season 1 alongside Buffy Season 4, Angel S2 and Buffy S5, etc. But clearly we won’t get there by the end of October. Perhaps a snowday marathon will be in order this winter …

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


As I mentioned yesterday, I had an office breakfast social this morning, which was scheduled for 9 a.m. I got into the office around 7:30, as usual, with several sleeves of grocery store bagels as my contribution, and I hung around in my cubicle until 8:45 or so and then wandered over to the conference room to lay out my portion of the buffet. As you can imagine I didn’t get much done in the lead-up hour and change beyond checking my e-mail to make sure there weren’t any web-app servers violently melting down at the moment. The breakfast was scheduled for 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. but I’m reasonably sure that was to account for latecomers and folks who couldn’t tear themselves away from their desks at the exact start time. I was out of there by 10. And thus I began my slow ramping up of mental activity to begin my work day, a few hours behind the normal schedule … and then we had an unannounced building-wide fire drill. That ate up another hour, and after that, I realized the day was pretty much a wash.

Which was just as well because I was absolutely torpidly overstuffed with food when I escaped from the breakfast. This is something about modern office life I have yet to figure out despite my many tours of duty through the various levels of the Big Gray. When you go to a potluck the general rule, as I understand it, seems to be that you bring enough of your foodstuff contribution for everyone. That works well if, say, four young couples are going to have a potluck dinner together. The host makes enough burgers for everyone, another couple brings enough potato salad for everyone, another brings two bottles of wine and another brings a pie sliced into eighths. Simple enough. But this approach is not, as they say, scalable. There were something like 40 people potentially attending the breakfast social at my office, and it looked as though every attendee brought enough food for everyone else. However, in practice, no one is going to put 40 helpings of assorted foodstuffs on their plate (or even on three plates ALTHOUGH I DANG WELL TRIED). I don’t know if anyone has ever devised a logarithm for these kinds of scenarios but our national productivity desperately needs one, especially as we are about to head into the holiday season when potlucks and other work functions abound. I would hate for all those food comas resulting from double-dipping into the donuts to result in a dreaded double-dip recession.

Anyway, speaking of torpor and sluggishness and things which are pretty much a wash, that’s as good a segue as any into the sports scene. I haven’t posted about baseball in a while because I was planning on saving up for the World Series. My wife asked me, shortly after the Yankees were eliminated, if I would thereafter be rooting for the Tigers. I informed her that I would not. While I understood and respect her reasoning (the “team of destiny” school of thought, whereby if the team that beats your team runs the table and wins it all you are supposed to feel less bad about being one of their stepping stones along the way) and while I also generally enjoy complicated if-then matchup scenarios and so forth, I really just wanted to root for the Brewers in the World Series, for three reasons:

1. They’ve never been world champs (I like a feel-good story now and then, I’m not made of stone, people)
2. A team name that references beer, which is sadly underrepresented in professional (non-fictional) sports
The game is supposed to be fun after all.
3. T-Plush

But it was not to be! Rangers versus Cardinals bores me to tears, so I doubt I’ll be checking in on the boys of summer anymore from here on out.

Football-wise, my wife and I were both pleased to see our Steelers and Giants, respectively, win on Sunday – but of course neither team managed to cover the spread, and we usually bet with our loyalty-filled hearts in the pick’em pool, so that was kind of a wash. (My wife actually bet against the Giants, though, and it did turn out to be a nail-biter, so more power to her there.) Overall in the pick’em pool both my wife and I are doing ok but not great, with the overall season wins leader holding a lead over each of us in the high single-digits. So it’s not quite to the point where we should give up the idea of ever clawing our way up into contention, but it’s definitely getting there. (If we’re down by double-digits after Week 8 I’d say that’s pretty much a done deal.)

Sometimes the best you can do is to appraise the situation with a hearty, “Yeah, ok, let’s try this again and take it from the top tomorrow/next week/next season.” Until tomorrow, then! (When I will probably spend a lot of time talking about a tv show that aired back in 1998.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Five by five

Not very much of note going on at work this week (unless you count a potluck breakfast scheduled for tomorrow morning, which should at least be somewhat diverting) but nevertheless it should be interesting to see how it plays out. Once again I find myself in the mental mode of not quite being able to remember the last time I put in five consecutive days at the office from Monday to Friday, between the supervision of our hardwood floor installers (which now seems like an eternity ago) the more recent sick days. But this could be a full work week, if nothing unforeseen pops up. Well, 90%+ of a full work week.

I went to the dentist on Saturday because, holy wow, there’s a dentist in town that is actually open on Saturdays. And I haven’t been to the dentist since before we moved two years ago, so I was overdue. Of course, I should have realized all of the above would have a cumulative delayed-backfire kind of effect. Because it had been so long since I’d seen a dentist, of course I need some moderately time-consuming procedures done above and beyond the typical friendly cleaning. And I made the appointment something like six weeks ago, because while they are open on Saturdays as you can imagine those Saturday slots fill up rapidly. So at the end of my exam I was asked to make another appointment for the real scrape-down-the-grit work, and they didn’t have a Saturday available for months to come, so I opted for … first thing this coming Friday.

Close to the bone
In theory if I can stay late and/or go in early a couple times this week then I should be able to come in late on Friday after my dental appointment and still have a full 40 hours to report on my timecard. In theory. But if nothing else, I’m learning not to make too many plans too far in advance these days, because the tendency for things to get forcibly rearranged at the last minute is overwhelming.

The dentist was by no means the highlight of my weekend, but has the most direct bearing on my work schedule. I’ll be revisiting the weekend’s far more enjoyable and rewarding aspects as the week goes along, interspersing them with actual breaking news as necessary (which, I’d wager, it won’t be) or just letting them fill out the usual agenda of daily topicality.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I have a job, it’s around here somewhere

Another day, another dip into my dwindling pot of annual leave hours. Actually the pot is officially exhausted,a lthough if I pull some longer days next week (as I’m already doing today) I might be able to still wind up with a marginally positive balance by the next pre-pay-period recalculation. Not that it matters much to me personally, really; the choice between telling my family to suck it up when one or more of them is sick and needs some creative rescheduling and accommodation, and telling my employer to suck it up when I’m out of official leave time but need to borrow against future accrual, that’s a textbook no-brainer (assuming said textbook is written, illustrated and edited by me).

So I stayed home from work once again yesterday. This time the root cause was a virus which had been doing battle with my wife’s immune system for almost a week already, in the face of which my wife was bravely soldiering on all the same, until suddenly a new and alarming symptom reared up in the form of an all-over itch that prevented her from getting any sleep whatsoever on Wednesday night. By 4 am it was apparent to both of us that she wasn’t going to be good for much except recovering on Thursday, and as I said, for me that meant staying home was just a given. It’s a little trickier to succinctly explain to my bosses that “my wife is ill and physically couldn’t sleep last night so I need to take today off from work, but I’m fine, and there’s not much I can do for her, but she can’t handle being exhausted and under the weather and minding a three year old and a six month old, and we don’t have daycare arrangements on Thursdays because those are usually my wife’s days off …” than the usual “my kids are too sick for day care and it’s my turn to stay home with them” (or the ever-more-infrequent “I myself am sick”) but I think I got the point across.

Fortunately my two bosses occupy opposite ends of the spectrum: my contracting supervisor never had kids so all this business of daycare and childhood maladies and whatnot are a complete mystery to him and he simply trusts my judgment and discretion in managing my own schedule and workload; my government supervisor is a mother whose children are just about grown but nevertheless she remembers the early days well and completely understands. She actually stopped by my cubicle this morning to sympathize and trade war stories about the vicious cycle of kids bringing home germs that get passed round and round the household in a vector death-spiral. (So to speak.)

If nothing else, the impromptu sick day yesterday once again lent credence to my belief that if I ever won the lottery I could quit my job with no reservations because I would never, ever get bored hanging around home every day. My wife got to take things slowly and rest up, my son and I got to go to his weekly toddler activity class (half an hour of free play on mats and foam climbing obstacles, fifteen minutes of loosely structured songs and games, pretty ideal), and my daughter and I got to go to the pediatrician for her six month check-up (she’s fantastically on-schedule developmentally, has two teeth coming in and is probably going to start eating rice cereal next week, and even got an official “no current active infections” declaration of in-the-pinkness). About as run-of-the-mill as things get, and I would have no problem with an unbroken string of days like that, fantastical finances permitting.

That hat isn't going to fit back in that hole.
(One random thing about the little guy’s class: the theme of the day was apples, and as we were leaving I asked the little guy if he was going to tell his mom how the class was about apples, and he asked me “Why was today about apples?” And I actually tried to answer him by explaining how in the past apples were mostly associated with the early fall because that’s when they were available, although of course he would know no such thing because we buy and eat apples at the grocery store pretty much year round. Which further led me to think (but not share aloud with the little guy) about how the class teacher had brought out a little worm-in-apple puppet and sang a song about worms in apples, despite the fact that wormy apples strike me as highly anachronistic. Maybe I’m a bit sheltered in my affluent suburban neighborhood with its massive corporate food-retailers, but it seems like the odds of my children ever seeing an actual worm in an actual apple are zero-ish at best. Which is a good thing! Yet the iconic imagery remains in the popular imagination. We have a weird culture.)

Anyway, I haven’t even gotten to the real kicker yet. I bailed on work twice this week, once for a holiday, and once for a family-caretaker personal day, and absolutely no one cared or batted an eye. As I have observed many times before, I don’t have that much to do on a regular basis at work and it’s no trouble at all to catch up on it if I drop a day here and/or there. My wife, on the other hand, has a very demanding job which is also appointment-driven, meaning no end of eyes get batted whenever she has no choice but to miss a day of work due to illness, because those things by their nature come up at the last minute and require seismic amounts of schedule-shuffling to cover an unplanned absence. And recently that (along with myriad other ridiculous-to-sublime factors) has been taking a toll on my wife and she decided to take a stand and inform her employers that she wanted the same scheduling considerations that the other senior doctors at her clinic are accorded, namely instead of working two full weekends a month she would work two Saturdays a month but only one Sunday, which is one of those seemingly small concessions which really means a lot. So a meeting was scheduled for this Monday to discuss the possibilities (yet another reason why it was fortuitous for me to take Columbus Day off, so that I could be home with the kids while my wife re-negotiated her hours) and the meeting went very well. My wife got the two things she wanted, not just the one Sunday per month arrangement but also a general feeling of being respected and appreciated by her colleagues and bosses (and rightly so, of course). Of course, if you’ll recall, my wife was pretty sick on Monday so she barely made it to that meeting. And hot on the heels of obtaining her newly liberated Sundays, she was also informed that she should come in for only half a day on Tuesday, given how some extra rest could only due her salutary good. She did manage to work a full day Wednesday, and Thursday is her off-day, part of which she dedicated to going to urgent care to make sure nothing was, as it were, urgently wrong with her vis-à-vis the itching (Good news: not measles! Bad news: not really sure what exactly it is, so tough it out and drink plenty of fluids!) and was informed she was probably fairly contagious, which was dutifully relayed back to work and they told her to go ahead and stay home today, too. To which thankfully she acquiesced. But I know it’s just killing my wife to have not just made but won the argument that she’s been a dedicated productive worker at the clinic for close the three years and deserves the minor benefit of one more Sunday to herself every month … and then proceed to show up at work that week on severely reduced hours. It’s through no fault of her own, obviously, and getting sick doesn’t retroactively make her a slacker, but nonetheless it’s not how she wanted this week to go down. Alas.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Treats and tricks

We’re getting close enough to the longest, darkest nights portion of the year that the sky is only barely starting to get light when my morning train arrives in Crystal City. (And that’s when it’s not raining, this also being a pretty reliably rain-heavy time of year.) So of course I’ve been arming myself with as much entertainment as possible, because the commute may run through the dark but inside the train it is reasonably well-lit.

We’re also getting close to Halloween, obviously, and once again I’ve given over the entirety of October to the horror genre for my personal pop culture consumption. A week and a half in and so far I’ve read a comedy-sci-fi-monster mash-up novel entitled Go, Mutants! – which was basically one long game of “I see what you did there” but as I happen to be a big fan of that game, that worked out well for me – and I’m about halfway through Frankenstein. Amazingly enough I’ve never read Mary Shelley’s best-known novel before, and that particular book is doing double duty not only as a Spooktoberfest entry but also as a Classic Book I’ve Never Read, since crossing off twelve of those was one of my New Year’s Resolutions. (It will be number eight, so I’m a bit behind, but I remain optimistic about finishing the year strong.)

This time last year I was pretty much only reading books on the commute, but nowadays I’m rotating in plenty of tv and movies on DVD as well. Spooktoberfest would be an ideal time to continue working my way through Supernatural, but I seem to be a victim of my own good fortune precluding that possibility. Two of my buddies chipped in together to buy me a Blu-Ray player for my birthday, which was touching in its generosity even if it may have been motivated in part by their selfish desire to be able to talk to me about various shows and films they’d be happy to loan me but only have in Blu-Ray format themselves. To wit, one of those buddies presented me with his copies of seasons 2 and 3 of Supernatural on Blu-Ray along with the player. So since the first of the month I have, in fact, been catching up on season 2, but only at home since my portable player option remains exclusively DVD-oriented. (This has been yet another dubious silver lining in the ongoing saga of everyone in my household falling ill, except me: while my wife and kids have been taking convalescent naps, I’ve been watching the Winchester boys deal with creepy killer clowns and pacifist vampires played by Tara from Buffy. Good times.)

(Also despite, or more likely because of, how resonant any suggestion of debilitating illness might be for me right now, I have no plans to go in the direction of any plague/zombie-themed horror during Spooktoberfest. Too soon.)

No false advertising here.
So, falling back on DVDs, last week I watched the movie Drag Me To Hell which … was a moderately entertaining modern gypsy-curse tale, but it seemed a bit overstuffed with competing ideas that didn’t really add up to anything (except perhaps a running joke where Alison Lohman keeps screaming while gross stuff – blood, bugs, death-ooze, etc. – is coming at her and said gross stuff ends up in her screaming mouth.) I remembered it getting fairly good reviews, which is why I wanted to check it out. I used to love horror movies when I was younger, from classic monster riffs to z-grade gross-outs to psychological suspense and just about everything in between. But lately, like many a diversion from my youth, they’ve just kind of fallen off my radar screen. I figured with a theme-powered October and a Netflix account I still haven’t cancelled, I might reacquaint myself via more recent offerings. But either the movies have changed, or I have, or possibly (probably) both.

I’d love to exhaustively research the question, with multiple samples from 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s horror cinema, but it’s amazing how fast a month goes by. If I choose wisely, don’t miss too much work due to sick days, and generally things go according to plan, I can probably read one novel a week, Monday through Thursday, paired with one movie on Friday. Which means by the end of Spooktoberfest I would have consumed four novels and four movies. And on the one hand that’s great, and a lot more leisurely brain-candy ingestion than a lot of people can scrape out the time for. But on the other hand, I can probably name ten books and twenty movies I’d love to include in the horror marathon. It’s just that the commute-time math doesn’t work in my favor.

Around the end of the month I suppose I’ll have to give an accounting of what did and did not make the cut for the Spooktoberfest slate. Assuming the world keeps turning, there’s always October of 2012 to pick up where I left off.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Plague 2: Infectious Boogaloo

So sometimes apparently “turning the corner” really just means “starting the U-turn”.

Just when the kids were seemingly back in the pink, and my wife was over a bout of conjunctivitis, along comes the flu and … well, lands squarely on my wife, pretty much. So far (knock every available square inch of wood) she is playing the human shield for the rest of us, as the kids were both healthy enough to head to daycare today and happy to do it, and I made it to work with minimal complaints. My wife managed to secure the morning off for herself, but she was planning on making a go of it in the afternoon, which I believe is a combination of her genuinely feeling better and the fact that she hates feeling sick and anything that reminds her of being sick.

This latest malady began Sunday night, when we were headed home after a pleasantly sociable evening over at the house of some friends. My wife was feeling particularly worn down so I advised her to let me drive home and worry about getting the little guy transferred from car to bed while she saw to her own needs. It was a good plan as far as it went and we followed it to the letter, but by the next morning it was undeniable that it was going to be an unpleasant sick day for my better half. Which, funny enough, turned out to be one of those good news/bad news kind of things. The good news was that even though it was a Monday, I was around to lend a hand. When we had looked ahead at the calendar some time ago we had agreed that it made sense for me to use a floating holiday on Columbus Day, so that my wife and I could spend it together (since Mondays are always her days off). So I didn’t have to feel the slightest guilt or panic about calling out from work, as I had previously cleared the holiday anyway. The bad news was, so much for our spending the day together. I did some shopping, cooked some meals, tended to the kids as best I could (still don’t quite have the hang of that lactating thing), and generally kept the house from falling down while my wife spent most of the day in bed recuperating. At least the fact that it was Columbus Day allowed us to make some good jokes about smallpox-infused blankets and whatnot, but seriously, any day where the highlight is smallpox gags is kind of a rough day.

One of these days there will be other things in my life to talk about besides who is currently sick with what and how far from recovery they are! But considering that my wife and I share a bed, our little guy loves nothing more than climbing all over us (except possibly being picked up and showering us with adorable affection) and our little girl spends most of her awake time either nursing or playing in one of our laps … I’m not really sure how any of us are going to get off this crazy carousel of contagion any time soon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ah, nerts

As always, I realized too late that I spoke too soon. I was right about baseball season being just about over, at least. That Yankees loss was a difficult game to watch last night. Part of me, while I was watching it, was convinced that falling behind in the very first frame but by a surmountable margin and playing excruciatingly slow and incremental catch-up all night only to fall just short in the end made for the worst kind of loss. But honestly, would a different kind of loss have been any better? Would I have preferred a blowout? Or an early lead that crumbled? I suppose not. Ah well, football it is, then.

(I do have to note, while I still can, that it is still very strange to me that we are headed into week 5 of the NFL season and the Giants and Redskins are tied for the lead in the NFC East while the Cowboys and Eagles are struggling. What weird alternate universe have I stumbled into? Of course now that I’ve pointed it out I have activated the blog-jinx and the Giants’ days on top are numbered. I really should stop doing that.)

Post-baseball, amazingly, the night went further downhill because our precious little baby girl would not go to sleep on her own. Then she reversed her stomach contents a couple of times and we took her temperature to find she had a very slight fever. She finally settled down around 1 a.m. and this morning we took her temperature again, and it remained elevated, a little bit higher still, definitely over the line of normal parameters. So not only does that mean we’re still apparently a few days out from everything being back to the normal routine, but it means the mystery of how her brother could have spiked a fever while she remained hunky-dory has been solved: the bug was simply biding its time.

The good news is that we are headed into a long weekend and my government office is, as a direct result, closing early today so I can get home that much faster to relieve grandma, who was pressed into emergency childcare service via morning summons today. The little guy made it back to school for the first time in like a week and a half, so I’ll have to pick him up, too, but then hopefully we can all just settle in for some uninterrupted recovery. (And hopefully saying “hopefully” will negate anything which might be construed as an actual prediction the universe feels compelled to countermand.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Comeback Trail

It feels as though maybe, possibly, circumstances of this uncertain universe being what they are, my household might be on the verge of turning the corner on getting back to something sort of like normal. But don’t hold me to that.

There had been a very minor glitch in the final installation of our new hardwood floors, which I think I failed to mention hereabouts. Specifically the floor in the area right in front of the dishwasher was cut in such a way that the dishwasher door could only be opened about 40 degrees, a problem which my wife solved by detaching the dishwasher’s front kickplate and setting it aside and asking me to get the workers out to our house one more time. A rep did come to the house this morning and found that, actually, the crew had simply re-installed the kickplate upside down as they finished up the job, so he attached it right side up and demonstrated that the door did in fact open and close freely, and then he went on his merry way. So the whole new floors adventure is finally, totally a done deal.

The kids also seem to be mended, as close to 100% healthy as they’re likely to get during cold and flu season (and with my inherently flawed respiratory system as a component of their genetic heritage), so we’re anticipating that they’ll both be back in daycare as of tomorrow. Not that this means a great deal one way or the other to our infant daughter, but it’ll be nice for the little guy to slot back into his customary routine.

It's funny because it will probably one day soon be true.
Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, and a week from yesterday will be my very Little Bro’s birthday, thus concluding the insane stretch from early September to mid-October that encompasses both my brothers’ birthdays, my son’s, my mom’s and my own. And as much as I love my family and love birthdays, it always comes as something of a relief to get past the point of constant gift-ordering, card-sending, and well-wish responding as summer turns to fall.

My wife’s work schedule has been a bit askew, and that actually continues tonight as she has a mandatory dinner to attend. On the up side, the dinner will satisfy part of her necessary Continuing Education requirement for the year, but she worked late Tuesday and Wednesday night, is going to be gone for about four hours tonight, and will be working late tomorrow night as well. It’s rare that we go four consecutive nights without at least being able to have dinner together, and we’re grateful for that when it holds true and a little put out when an anomalous string of nights like this crops up. But, again, after this stretch we should be back to the normal schedule.

And then finally, of course, there’s the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS tonight, at which point either the Yankees will advance to the Championship round or the baseball season will effectively end for me. So it’s probably just as well that my wife has an unavoidable professional reason to be out of the house tonight, and it is a similarly good thing that the first pitch is after the kids’ bedtime (well, the little girl still has many bedtimes throughout the night, but shares one with her brother, at least) so that I can pace around the den hyperventilating on my own. One way or the other, though, there’s a new phase about to begin. Probably? It really could go either way.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An oldie but a goodie

So as promised I spent the day at home with the munchkins today, and it looks like we finally may be out of the woods. The little guy was, at a minimum, feeling well enough to push against my parental "stop that right now" just to see what would happen, so that's a good sign.

Anyway, I tried to make good use of the unplanned time at home, particularly when one or both children were safely occupied or asleep. I made some decent headway on two interrelated projects: getting the scanner hooked up again, and filing a ton of statements and other papers. Said ton was perched precariously on top of the scanner, which is why those projects were interrelated; don't go thinking I was scanning mortgage bills and filing them electronically or anything ambitious like that. I just had to stuff sheets into folders in our filing cabinet, which not coincidentally is what the scanner rests upon itself.

You might recall that I was really excited about using the scanner specifically in conjunction with this blog, when I acquired it, but then of course shortly thereafter our old home PC died. Then we got a new PC, after having relocated the whole computer workspace from the old spare room/new nursery, and I just never got around to hooking up the scanner because I thought it would be a pain to dig through some other box somewhere else and find trhe drivers and whatnot. What I had failed to realize was I now have a computer made in this decade and all I had to do was connect the scanner and it basically installed itself. Sweet.

Anyway, to celebrate the resurrection of the scanner (and of course the fact that it's Wednesday) I dug out an old comic that's been on my mind lately so that I could share it with all of you. It's a Justice League issue from the summer of '84, which I bought on the newsstand at the age of nine. It hasn't been in my thoughts because of the recent "New 52!" relaunch of all of DC's titles, because other than the publisher there's not much connection. (It dates from a matter of months before the geek-touchstone Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline which happens to be the first time DC tried chucking the past and rebooting everything, and also features Supergirl, who would die a very dramatic death in COIE, which means when I was eleven or twelve I thought that this particular Justice League issue would someday be worth a lot of money since it featured one of the last Supergirl appearances EVAR. I had a lot to learn. Supergirl got a new #1 in the New 52, too. But I digress.)

Really it's just a few panels that had always been burned in my brain, and I will present a scan of them to speak for itself:

Headbands and helmets, those were the days
Click to super-justice-size!

As noted, there's Supergirl, talking to sorcerer-superhero Doctor Fate about how they have a million tons of leftover evil to dispose of after their most recent battle, and since they happen to be in Washington D.C. they can bypass the step where Doctor Fate constructs a pentagram-shaped vault in which to lock away the bad juju. (This despite the fact that apparently no one told the artist that in panel 3 he had basically drawn half an octagon. Details.)

Work hasn't been going that terribly lately but I have been getting more and more Pentagon-wide e-mails every day which have nothing to do with me, my job functions, etc. and it does sometimes make me wonder if the mail servers for the Pentagon's network are in fact buried undergournd along with some glowing black tumor of undiluted malevolence which has been gaining awareness since the mid-1980's. But questions like that are above my paygrade, as we say, so sadly, we may never know.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


So how are the two adorable little munchkins who live at the same address as me? They are both good, and yet both not-so-good, and (as may go without saying) manage to embody those inherent contradictions in different ways.

Let’s start with the little girl, who is growing like crazy and weighed seventeen and a half pounds at the doctor’s office yesterday and if I were still in the habit of handing out blogonyms would probably be christened Armbreaker McFrillybutt as a more or less permanent measure. She has reached the stage of grabbing everything within a one-foot radius that’s not nailed down and shoving it in her mouth, and she can pretty much sit upright and unaided indefinitely (or until she lunges at something and faceplants). She is also making the first limb-flailing overtures toward crawling which means we need to start planning on serious babyproofing soon. Note: this modicum of awareness will probably not prevent us from waiting until the first time she scoots over to a floor lamp and nearly pulls it down before we actually go ahead and perform said baby-proofing.

She is also babytalk-babbling up a storm and has decided that of all the pets she likes the kitten the best (although her big brother is still far and away the apple of her eye) and between that and all the aforementioned physical mass-gaining and motor control-refining she is doing quite well indeed. On the other hand, she’s a little under the weather at the moment. Not so’s you’d notice, not during the day at any rate, but she has a persistent cough which of course gets worse when she’s horizontal. So now, after months of managing to reverse-spoil her own parents by being an excellent sleeper, she is physically unable to stay asleep through the night, as she wakes herself up hacking up phlegm and gets understandably upset about it. That’s been a bit rough, much moreso on my wife than me since this started over the weekend and has stretched (so far) into my wife’s usual day off on Monday and an impromptu day off on Tuesday.

Because on the other hand we have the little guy, who is also a constant delight in his mad dash toward getting bigger and bigger but who is also stricken with some kind of viral bug that has given him a low grade fever ever since Thursday (with spiking monets of high-grade in there too for funsies). Our daycare has pretty strict rules about kids not coming to the center while they have a fever or for 24 hours thereafter, so the little guy didn’t go to school last Friday, instead staying home with me. Nor did he go today, and because he had a fever today it looks like he won’t be going tomorrow either. He usually stays home with my wife on Thursdays, so we’re hoping this thing burns itself out between now and then and he can just get back to his normal routine on Friday. It hasn’t been that difficult for him or us from the afflicted/nursemaid perspective, honestly: there have been stretches here and there where the little guy has clearly been a little off his game, including taking a three-hour afternoon nap yesterday (after seemingly giving up the practice of napping at home for good weeks if not months ago) and a couple of nights ago informing his mother and me that he was tired and wanted to go to bed as soon as possible, which was mind-blowingly unprecedented. But once he goes down for the night, he sleeps pretty deeply, as opposed to the insomnia plaguing his sister. And for the most part he seems like his usual self and when we ask him how he feels he either says “better” (if he remembers he’s supposed to be sick) or simply “great”.

My wife took both the kids to the doctor yesterday but got a very non-committal non-diagnosis. On the one hand, that’s frustrating, but on the other hand, it’s actually good news: something very specific could be very scary, but generic “childhood crud” is a reasonably benign condition that we know from experience clears up on its own. It’s just bad luck that both our kids seem to have gotten different germs which manifest in different symptoms (the little girl has yet to spike a temperature, and the little guy hasn’t coughed once) at the exact same time.

Tomorrow will be my turn to stay home with the kids (or kid, possibly, if it seems like a good idea to drop the baby off at daycare and devote all my attention to keeping the little guy from going bonkers stir-crazy) and I will check in if at all possible. But we all know my track record on that front speaks for itself (or not, as the case may be).

Monday, October 3, 2011


It’s true, I had a birthday over the weekend and am now 37 years of age. Not really a traditional milestone along the lifepath but nevertheless it does carry a certain sense of “OK, now. SERIOUSLY.” Maybe it’s being a mere three years away from legit point of reckoning 40, maybe it’s just me. But I do feel as though I may have crossed a line where I really don’t have as much time to put things off indefinitely. Getting and staying healthy, tending to my house and plot o’ land, figuring out what exactly I’m doing with my long-term job plans: these are things I need to get on top of before I can’t even see the top of them anymore. The weirdest part may be that this realization isn’t hitting me as a crushing thing. I’m not weeping and wailing (or even scuffing and grumbling) about how quickly the days of carefree youth went by. It’s more of a “yeah, okay, here I am, let’s figure this thing out”, which is really not so bad.

So part of that, as mentioned, has to do with work and making at least a token effort to put a little more into it in hopes of getting a little more out of it, which I’ve been attempting today as my first post-b-day week in the cubicle opens up. I’m also slightly in catch-up mode as there were one or two things I put on my Thursday status report which I expected in full good faith to get done on Friday, only to end up not going to work on Friday at all because the little guy got too sick for daycare on Thursday night (more about that tomorrow). So I’m still not quite up to full speed here. Hopefully by midweek that will have turned around.

In other words I’m a little older and still as slack as ever but maybe sort of seeing the first outlying indicators that I’ll be trying to be less slack in the somewhat near future? I think that about sums it up.